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Oversight and Accountability

The appearance of new technology can evoke apprehension and engender uncertainty among segments of the population about its uses. Where these concerns are related to issues having important ethical and social implications, certain levels of oversight are appropriate. But it is important to create new oversight mechanisms or regulatory burdens only when there are compelling reasons for doing so. Public oversight should be in proportion to the seriousness of the concerns raised.

Although some adjustments in the current system of oversight are necessary, no new regulatory mechanisms are needed at the present time to ensure responsible social and professional control of such research in the United States. A system that has, over time, protected the public health and safety while simultaneously providing a setting that is congenial to the advancement of science has much to offer. The basic framework is sound and includes several attractive features:

  • It is pluralistic, with multiple access points for those who wish to be heard and influence public policy.

  • It is democratic, with public involvement encouraged on different levels and at different points in the drafting, consideration, and promulgation of public policy.

  • It is flexible, in that it can adapt to accommodate cutting-edge research and innovative technology.

  • It is compatible with the values of scientific freedom and public accountability.

  • It supports private-public partnerships consistent with the distinct yet complementary goals of the private sector and government.

Despite these strengths of the existing framework for oversight of research, as the science advances, new issues may emerge that will challenge acceptable ethical practices and public policy. As human stem cell research proceeds, there should be opportunities for public reconsideration of the need for any special institutional oversight, and we strongly recommend an open, informed, and continuing public discourse on these matters.

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